Contracted form of Old French Jo(h)anne, from Latin Io(h)anna ( see Joanna ). In England this was the usual feminine form of John from the Middle English period onwards and was extremely popular, but in the 16th and 17th centuries it steadily lost ground to Jane . It was strongly revived in the first part of the 20th century, partly under the influence of George Bernard Shaw's play St Joan ( 1923 ), based on the life of Joan of Arc ( 1412–31 ). Claiming to be guided by the voices of the saints, she persuaded the French dauphin to defy the occupying English forces and have himself crowned, and she led the French army that raised the siege of Orleans in 1429 . The following year she was captured by the Burgundians and sold to the English, and a year later she was burned at the stake for witchcraft at the age of 18 or 19. Her story has captured the imagination of many writers, and she is variously portrayed as a national and political hero, a model of apolitical straightforwardness and honesty, and a religious heroine. She was canonized in 1920 . More recent influences have included the American film actress Joan Crawford ( 1908–77 , born Lucille le Sueur ), the British actress Joan Collins ( b. 1933 ), the American comedienne Joan Rivers ( b. 1933 ), and the West Indian pop singer Joan Armatrading ( b. 1950 ).
Dictionary of First Names © Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges 1990, 2003, 2006.